Years ago we had a wonderful parishioner by the name of Dr. Gordon Bell. He was the founder of Bellwood’s Clinic and he spent his life trying to help men and women overcome addictions of any kind, addictions that we destroying their lives and the lives of those who loved them. He was telling one time about the summer he spent as a student in Quebec going from door to door and town to town selling encyclopaedias. He was hitchhiking one day and someone stopped to pick him up. It was a priest. They talked about different things during the ride and when the priest stopped to let him out he thanked him for the ride. The priest answered ’it was a pleasure to have been of service.’ This struck Dr. Bell so profoundly that he used the phrase for the rest of his life. It was a pleasure to have been of service. Dr. Bell had this printed on his memorial at his death. It was a pleasure to have been of service.
We don’t know what James and John had in mind with their request to sit on either side of Jesus when he comes to his glory but they certainly set off the other disciples. James and John were climbers and when Jesus received his full measure of honor, however and whatever that might be,these two brothers wanted a share in it by gaining the most prestigious positions next to him.
Jesus uses the apostle’s squabble as a teaching moment. He tells them they’ve got it all wrong. He didn’t call them to a life of prestige he’s called them to a life of service. They are to be there for those in need 24-7 just as he intended to be. There many times in his ministry he was swamped by the demands of the people. Jesus lets them know that what he expected of them.They were to have nothing in common with those who lord it over others, people who abuse their positions of authority, whether they be Jews of Gentiles. Those who would be disciples of Jesus, those who are in positions of authority among his followers were to be servants, slaves to all in need. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many and it was to be the same for them.
That ideal has not always been lived in the leadership of the church. There have been many abuses of authority in the history of the church just as we had many examples of true service in those called to lead us. It is all part of the mixed messiness of our history.
The bishops meeting in Rome for the synod on the family know that they are there to serve us, the church. They are a mixture of personalities and convictions and we have to trust that they are there to do what is best for our welfare. For all their differences of opinion the bishops at the synod see their long labors at meeting after meeting as a service to the whole church
Hopefully they will be guided by the Holy Spirit and the example of Pope Francis who has set a new tone for the bishops and priests of the church. He calls to be so close to you that we come to have the smell of the sheep.
Pope Francis’ actions speak louder than words as we see him embrace and kiss a facially deformed pilgrim. We see him visit prisons and wash the feed of a Moslem woman, we see him visit the slums and go to be with the migrants seeking refuge in Europe. He is a Pope who sets aside pomp and circumstance of his office and seeks to serve us and give his life in that service.
Each one of us is called to service, a service that is lived out in the particular circumstances of our lives, as spouses, as single parents, as grandparents, as single men and women, as sons and daughters, each one of us is challenged to be there for someone in need, in need of help, in need of encouragement, in need of understanding.
May we all have that willingness to be there for others and the graciousness to say,’ it was a privilege to be of service.’